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Steele DE-8 - History

Steele DE-8 - History


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Steele
( DE-8: dp. 1,140; 1. 289'5"; b. 35'2~, dr. 11'; cpl. 198; a. 3 3", 4 40mm., 9 20mm., 2 act., 8 dcp., 1 dcp.(hh.); cl. Evarts)

Steele (DE-8), ex-BDE-8, was laid down on 27 January 1942 by the Navy Yard, Boston, Mass.; launched on 9 January 1943; sponsored by Mrs. John Steele; and commissioned on 4 May 1943, Lt. Cmdr. Mark E. Dennett in command.

Steele sailed from Boston for Bermuda to begin her shakedown cruise on 25 May and returned On 27 June for post-shakedown availability. She stood out of port on 6 July en route to the Pacific war zone. After making port calls at the Society and Tonga islands, Steele arrived at Noumea, New Caledonia, on 10 August. She escorted merchant ships and transports among the New Hebrides, Fiji, and Solomon Islands until 13 December 1943 when she got underway for the west coast of the United States to be repaired.

Steele arrived at Mare Island, Calif., on 3 January 1944 and headed for Hawaii exactly one month later. She arrived at Pearl Harbor on 9 February and sailed with a convoy to the Marshall Islands on the 14th They reached Majuro on the 22d. The DE performed escort and patrol duty in the Marshalls until 7 May when she sailed for the Gilbert Islands to serve in the destroyer screen at Tarawa. These orders were countermanded the day after her arrival, and she returned to Majuro on the 12th. Two days later, the escort put to sea with two tankers for a fueling rendezvous with carriers of Task Force (TF) 58, which was conducting air strikes against Marcus and Wake Islands.

Upon completion of this assignment, the ship was routed to Kwajalein for tender availability. Steele sailed on 5 June for Kusaie Island in the eastern Caroline Islands to observe enemy activity and possibly to intercept a Japanese submarine believed to be due there on the 6th. The submarine did not arrive, so the destroyer bombarded Lele Harbor on the east coast of the island and ascertained that the island was lightly fortified. She returned to the Marshalls and operated there until 23 June.

Steele escorted Chandeleur (AV-10) to the Marianas and arrived off Saipan the morning of 26 June. She was assigned to the antisubmarine screen and then joined a convoy for the return trip to the Marshall Islands. She made another escort voyage to the Mariana Islands in early August. After a short upkeep period, Steele was assigned to a hunter-killer group centered around Hoggatt Bay (CVE-75). The group sortied on 21 August and was designated as one of the eight groups of Admiral Halsey's Western Carolines Forces which supported the fast carriers of TF 38.

Steele, with her group, supported the amphibious assault on Peleliu, Palau Islands, by patrolling between there and Mindanao, Philippine Islands. After refueling on 23 September, the group shifted their patrol area to the northeast of the Palaus. On 3 October, Samuel S. Miles (DE-183) made a surface contact which was identified as a Japanese submarine. Steele was detached from the screen to assist the escort. The submarine had submerged, but Samuel S. Miles made sonar contact and fired two hedgehog patterns. The second pattern produced two underwater explosions which Steele's sonar equipment picked up and a third explosion so violent that it damaged some of Miles' sonar and radar. Steele made more runs over the area but could not make contact. Miles had sunk the Japanese submarine 1~64.

Steele made a logistics stop at Manus from 9 to 13 October and sailled with the group for the Philippine Islands. As the fast carriers launched strikes against Leyte, Luzon, and Formosa, the aircraft from Hoggatt 1 protected the refueling operations. On the 20th, Steele and her group rendezvoused with the damaged Houston (CL - 1) and Canberra (CA-70) which had been hit off Formosa while serving with the 3d Fleet. After furnishing protection for the cruisers for two days, the group was detached to rejoin the 3d Fleet fueling group which was then supporting the liberation of Leyte. The group arrived at Ulithi on 27 October and was dissolved the following day. On 1 November, Steele returned to the Palaus and operated from there until 8 January 1945 when she arrived at Ulithi for upkeep. After escorting a convoy to Saipan, the escort headed for Pearl Harbor.

Steele was there for a month and then escorted ships to Eniwetok, Saipan, Ulithi, and Guam. She arrived at Apra Harbor on 5 May and operated from there until 18 September when she sailed for the west coast. The destroyer escort arrived at San Pedro Calif., on 5 October. An inspection team checked the ship on the 23d and recommended that she be scrapped.

Steele decommissioned on 21 November and was struck from the Navy list on 5 December 1945.

Steele received two battle stars for World War II service.


Steele DE-8 - History

USS Steele , a 1140-ton Evarts class escort ship, was built at the Boston Navy Yard, Massachusetts. Commissioned in May 1943, she transferred to the Pacific after a brief shakedown period. During the next two years, Steele operated in the south and central Pacific on escort and anti-submarine duties. She was present when USS Samuel S. Miles (DE-183) sank a Japanese submarine on 3 October 1944. At the end of World War II, Steele returned to the U.S. West Coast and was decommissioned in November 1945. She was sold for scrap in December 1946.

This page features our only view related to USS Steele .

If you want higher resolution reproductions than the Online Library's digital images, see: "How to Obtain Photographic Reproductions."

Click on the small photograph to prompt a larger view of the same image.

Loss of USS Indianapolis , July 1945

USS Tranquillity (AH-14) arrives at Guam, carrying survivors of USS Indianapolis (CA-35), 8 August 1945.
The bow of USS Steele (DE-8) is in the foreground.

Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the U.S. National Archives.

Note on color quality: The original ANSCO transparency has degraded color, with purples and greens predominating. This has been somewhat corrected in this reproduction.


Origins of the Mohawk Skywalkers

Undated photograph of Robert McComber, from Caughnawaga Indian Reserve, working on high steel constructions site in downtown Montreal as a welder. 

Boris Spremo/Toronto Star via Getty Images

The Mohawk Skywalker tradition began in 1886 when some daring Mohawk men from Kahnawake took jobs helping build the Victoria Bridge across the St. Lawrence River, which borders their reserve near Montreal. Just as early European settlers had observed Mohawks walking fearlessly across rivers on narrow logs, early ironworkers showed an unusual aptitude for climbing and working on steel beams. Having once hunted, trapped and farmed throughout the northeast woodlands, the Mohawks of the Haudenosaunee, or Iroquois Confederacy, eventually took to the high steel in burgeoning metropolitan areas. These indigenous riveting gangs spoke their native languages on the job while helping to build the Chrysler Building, Empire State Building, Rockefeller Plaza and many other structures that shaped the New York City skyline in the 1920s and 1930s.


A Short History of the Filibuster

For a political tactic that sits at the center of a swirling controversy, the filibuster has humble origins. The Founding Fathers gave each house of Congress the power to set its own rules, but they clearly meant for most matters to be decided by majority vote, and they specified the exceptions: proposing amendments to the Constitution, overriding a presidential veto, expelling members of Congress, ratifying treaties, and convicting on an article of impeachment require a two-thirds vote in the relevant chamber. In the early days of the republic, Senate rules allowed a majority to end debate on legislation and move to a vote via a procedure called “moving the previous question.” But in 1804, Vice President Aaron Burr argued that the little-used rule was unneeded, and two years later, the Senate dropped it without replacing it. After that, a single senator (or a group of senators) could obstruct the legislative process simply by holding the floor. Thus the filibuster was born.

The word comes from the Spanish for “freebooter,” another name for pirate. In the mid-nineteenth century, it signified men, usually Americans, who tried to seize control of weak Central American countries. (The most famous of these was William Walker, the so-called “grey-eyed man of destiny,” who briefly became president of Nicaragua in 1856.) How the word came to be used as a name for dilatory legislative tactics is unknown the first known example of this meaning dates to 1863.

The tactic was rarely deployed immediately after its creation. It was used once in 1837 to prevent a censure of President Andrew Jackson from being expunged, and once in 1841 to prevent the establishment of a new national bank. Ending legislative debate in the Senate required unanimous consent until 1917, when, after Germany declared unrestricted submarine warfare, 12 antiwar senators successfully filibustered a bill that would have armed merchant vessels. At the request of President Woodrow Wilson, the Senate voted 76–3 to establish a cloture rule that would allow two-thirds of senators present and voting to shut down debate. Senators first invoked cloture in 1919 to end debate on the Treaty of Versailles, which they then rejected.

In the next few decades, Southern Democrats made heavy use of the tactic to derail civil rights legislation, including anti-lynching bills. Back then, filibustering senators actually had to hold the floor and speak. Senator Strom Thurmond set a record in 1957 when he spoke for 24 hours and 18 minutes against that year’s civil rights bill—quoting from Shakespeare, reading all of George Washington’s Farewell Address, and citing, at length, the provisions of various laws.

But as the campaign for civil rights intensified, Southern senators’ obstructionism became increasingly controversial—and the filibuster came under increasing scrutiny. In 1949, a 54–42 Democratic-majority Senate had changed the cloture rule to require two-thirds of the entire upper chamber, not just those present and voting. (Proposals to change Senate rules, however, required unanimous consent.) But at the beginning of the 86th Congress, on January 5, 1959, Majority Leader Lyndon Johnson proposed to undo this rule and to remove the exemption for rules changes. Vice President Richard Nixon ruled that this proposal itself could not be filibustered, as it had been brought on the first day of the new Congress and the Senate had a constitutional right to set its rules. It passed. The significance became evident in 1964, when Southern senators filibustered that year’s historic civil rights bill for fully 75 hours before cloture was successfully invoked for only the second time since 1927.

Later changes led to the modern incarnation. Until 1970, a filibuster brought the Senate to a halt until either the motion was abandoned or cloture was invoked. That year, a rules change allowed the Senate to consider more than one motion at a time. In 1975, the number of votes needed to invoke cloture was reduced to three-fifths of the whole Senate: 60 votes. (Cloture for rules changes still requires two-thirds of those present and voting.) Naturally, when senators no longer needed to hold the floor to filibuster, the tactic became much more common. The effect was to require 60 votes to pass legislation or confirm nominations in the Senate, something not contemplated by the Founders—nor, of course, forbidden by them.

Deepening partisan divisions leave the filibuster’s future uncertain. In the 2000s, both parties began to threaten the “nuclear option” to eliminate filibusters for Senate-confirmed nominees. In 2013, the Democrats exercised it for all nominations except for the Supreme Court. Republicans finished the job four years later, removing the Supreme Court exception. Now many Democrats, having the most tenuous of majorities, want to eliminate the tactic altogether. Both President Biden and nearly every sitting Democratic senator have deplored the filibuster while in the majority and defended it while in the minority, a reminder that transitory political advantage can be a powerful motivation.

Though the Founders did not include it in their original constitutional design, the filibuster arguably reinforces the Senate’s character as the proverbial saucer in which to cool hot tea. The Founders believed that House members would tend to be sensitive to public passions, while more insulated senators would be better able to legislate wisely. Viewed through that lens, the legislative filibuster serves to dampen what might be violent swings in public policy as the fortunes of the two parties ebb and flow. Time will tell whether, in its absence, today’s tea kettle will boil over.

John Steele Gordon specializes in business and financial history and is the author of books including Hamilton’s Blessing: The Extraordinary Life and Times of Our National Debt.


Shelby Steele

Political commentator and essayist Shelby Steele was born on January 1, 1946, in Chicago, Illinois. His father, Shelby, Sr., a black truck driver, met his mother, Ruth, a white social worker, while working for the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). Steele considers his mixed heritage an amazing gift, which served to demystify race for him. Because both of Steele's parents were active in the Civil Rights Movement, he grudgingly accompanied his father to numerous marches and rallies as a child.

Steele met his wife, Rita, during his junior year at Coe College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where he was one of eighteen black students in his class. Steele was active in SCOPE, a group linked to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and he met Rita at an activist meeting. In 1968, Steele graduated from Coe and went on to earn his M.A. degree in sociology from Southern Illinois University. Steele attended the University of Utah, where he taught African American literature and studied for his Ph.D. After earning a Ph.D. in English in 1974, Steele was offered a tenured position at the university, but turned it down due to hostility encountered as an interracial couple in Utah.

Steele accepted a position at San Jose State University as a professor of English literature, teaching there from 1974 to 1991. He earned an Emmy Award in 1990 for his work on Seven Days in Bensonhurst, a PBS Frontline documentary examining the racially motivated killing of Yusef Hawkins in Brooklyn, New York.

Steele won the National Book Critics Circle Award in 1991 for The Content of Our Character, a collection of essays on race. In 1994, Steele was appointed a Senior Research Fellow at the Hoover Institution. His research there focuses primarily on race relations, multiculturalism and affirmative action.


Behind the bush: a history of Danielle Steel's Spreckels Mansion

Danielle Steel’s hedge (in vulgar parlance, Danielle Steel’s bush) is as San Francisco as sourdough bread, International Orange, and Lombard Street. Derided by urban design critic John King as comically off-putting, we cannot help but adore the massive shrubbery the romance author installed outside her mammoth Pacific Heights mansion.

Makes you wonder what’s hiding behind it. Which is why we’re taking a deep dive behind the hedges and into the stately structure’s history on the other side.

The Spreckels Mansion at 2080 Washington—best known as the former residence of romance superstar novelist Danielle Steel—has been a major San Francisco landmark since day one and has played host to tales that are worthy of her books. Of course, it's now hidden behind a massive hedge worthy of a photo tribute, but we took a peek inside the storied home's history. Here now is a look back at one of the city's most iconic mega-mansions.

2080 Washington Street in the 1950s, before the infamous hedge. Photo courtesy of the SF Public Library

The Spreckels family is one of San Francisco's oldest and most illustrious. Their story goes back to Claus Spreckels, who first started a brewery when he brought his family to San Francisco in 1856. Claus soon switched to the sugar industry and built his fortune in Hawaii by allegedly acquiring water rights in poker game with the King of Hawaii.

He built his first SF-based sugar refinery in 1867 at Eighth and Brannan, but soon needed more space and opened a larger facility in Potrero Point. His California Sugar Refinery funded additional Spreckels enterprises, like a resort hotel in Aptos, an investment in the Santa Cruz Railroad, and sugar beet operations in the Salinas Valley that sprouted the company town of Spreckels, California.

Claus was the sugar daddy, if you will, to 13 children with his wife Anna but only 5 survived to adulthood. The oldest son, John, established a transportation and real estate empire in San Diego, while second son Adolph ran the family sugar business. Adolph was a big whale in San Francisco, but it was his wife Alma who gained the moniker "great-grandmother of San Francisco.”

Adolph and Alma with their children. Photos via SF Public Library.

Alma lived a true rags to riches story. She was born in the Sunset in 1881 when it was still a windswept district of sand dunes. Her parents were Danish immigrants, and while her father spent more time hating on the city's nouveau riche than working, her mother ran three successful business out of the family home. Alma had an interest in art and took night classes at Mark Hopkins Art Institute. At six feet tall, "Big Alma" soon became a favorite model of local artists. These jobs led to several lucrative side gigs as a nude model.

After a lawsuit against an ex-boyfriend for "de-flowering," Alma became something of a celebrity in the city, and was the obvious choice to model for sculptor Robert Aitken's monument to Naval hero Admiral Dewey and President William McKinley (it still stands today in the center of Union Square). Wealthy bachelor Adolph Spreckels was on the Citizen's Committee in charge of the landmark's funding and became smitten with the model. After "courting" for five years, they finally married in 1908.

Alma looking fierce as the Goddess of Victory atop the Dewey Monument in Union Square. Photos by Peter Kaminski

The new couple first lived in Sausalito, but Adolph purchased the property that would become the Spreckels mansion as a Christmas present for Alma. The Victorian-style home was torn down to make room for a new French Chateau designed by architects Kenneth MacDonald Jr. and Beaux Arts-trained George Applegarth (fun fact: Applegarth was buddies with Jack London, and the pair would ride their bikes from the Bay Area to Yosemite and Half Dome). The Spreckels had to buy up several nearby Victorians to make room for the new manse, and Alma insisted on saving the structures by moving eight of them to new locations. Completed in 1912, the new house became host to lots of lavish parties and launched Alma into high society

Spreckels Mansion in 1913.

Alma went to Europe on a trip to stock the new house with loads of 18th-century antiques. She became friends with dancer Loie Fuller in Paris, who in turn introduced her to sculptor Auguste Rodin. Together, the women secured 13 of Rodin's bronzes, which Alma brought to the Panama Pacific International Exposition of 1915. This sparked the idea for Alma to build a museum for her art. It later became the California Palace of the Legion of Honor.

Rodin's “Thinking Man” at Legion of Honor, courtesy of Alma herself. Photo by Omar Bárcena

The house at 2080 Washington was often the headquarters of Alma's charity efforts, from garage sales and raffles—once of a Rodin—during World War I in the massive five-car garage to the conversion of the garage into a recycling center and air-raid shelter in World War II. It housed a thrift shop that funded the Legion of Honor until 1978. Later in life, Alma secluded herself in the house was rumored to swim naked. When she died in 1968, the house was left to her two surviving daughters.

The hedge and home as they appear today.

After Alma's death, the mansion was divided into four units until Danielle Steel purchased the property and restored it to a single family residence. She hasn't made many friends in the neighborhood, between that enormous hedge and rumors that she has bought more than 25 parking permits in the neighborhood for guests of her parties to use.

Danielle Steel is notoriously private, so there's not much info on what the house looks like today, but she has said in interviews that she used to write her novels out of a closet-sized office in her bedroom.

Though she still owns the home, Steel spends the majority of her time in Paris. After extracting herself from the city’s antiquated society scene, she fled Baghdad by the Bay for chicer ground.

“San Francisco is a great city to raise children, but I was very happy to leave it,” said Steel after leaving SF, fabulously and famously adding, “There's no style, nobody dresses up—you can't be chic there. It's all shorts and hiking books and Tevas—it's as if everyone is dressed to go on a camping trip.”


The Earliest Steel Swords Were Game Changers

Today they might play largely ceremonial roles, but for hundreds of years swords were perhaps the most important weapon in any army's arsenal. The development of new sword-tech was, accordingly, crucial to the unfolding of history. The earliest steel swords in particular were game changers.

YouTuber Shadiversity, eccentric expert in castles and other medieval tech, offers a terrific overview of the several properties needed to make a good ancient sword. Beyond that, he's built a recreation of what one of those swords looked like.

The Vered Jericho sword is described by the Israel Museum as a ceremonial sword from the 7th century BCE. With a complexity greater than one would assume for the era, it's a remarkable feat of engineering. Quoting the Biblical Archaeology Review, Shad describes the sword as:

A rare and exceptionally long sword, which was discovered on the floor of a building next to the skeleton of a man, dates to the end of the First Temple period. The sword is 1.05 meters long and has a double edged blade, with a prominent central ridge running along its entire length.The hilt was originally inlaid with a material that has not survived, most probably wood. Only the nails that once secured the inlays to the hilt can still be seen. The sword's sheath was also made of wood, and all that remains of it is its bronze tip. Owing to the length and weight of the sword, it was probably necessary to hold it with two hands. The sword is made of iron hardened into steel, attesting to substantial metallurgical know-how. Over the years, it has become cracked, due to corrosion.

Today, it might be possible to smash a crowbar into a sword right in your own garage, but it probably couldn't hold a candle to this centuries old work of craftsmanship.


Early Carbon Microphones

Figure E3

After Francis Blake's invention using the platinum bead, Blake then developed a microphone transmitter that used loose carbon granule elements. Figure E3 is a diagram of the device from Blake's original patent. This early microphone design was the precursor to the most widely used microphone type from its invention to the present day the carbon microphone.

Several examples of early carbon microphones contained in the Steele Vintage Microphone Collection are featured in the gallery below.


Birmingham Iron and Steel Companies

Sipsey Mine Workers, 1913 Birmingham owes its 1871 founding to the geological uniqueness of the Jones Valley, the only place on Earth where large deposits of the three raw materials needed to make iron—coal (for conversion into coke), iron ore, and limestone—existed close together. Named for the industrial heart of Great Britain, the city prospered and grew as the iron, coal, and steel industry expanded. But labor issues, economic constraints imposed by northern owners, and eventual overseas competition hampered development, and Birmingham never evolved into the world-class steel-making center that its founders envisioned. Sloss Blast Furnace The 1880s saw a frenzy of construction, in which 19 additional furnaces were erected in or near Birmingham. In 1881, Colonel James W. Sloss founded the Sloss Furnace Company with two furnaces and became one of the city's greatest promoters. The Tennessee Coal, Iron, and Railroad Company (TCI), from the Sequatchie Valley near Chattanooga, Tennessee, constructed four furnaces and quickly became the largest enterprise in the Birmingham District, as the region encompassing the mineral deposits came to be known. The Woodward Iron Company, headed by a group of investors from West Virginia, and the Pioneer Mining and Manufacturing Company, whose owners came from Pennsylvania, built a number of furnaces. The DeBardeleben Coal and Iron Company, an offshoot of Pratt, built four furnaces and an iron mill. Woodward Iron Company Each of these firms used a system known as "straight-line production," in which all steps of the production process followed one upon the other in an assembly-line that took advantage of the proximity to the raw materials to reduce transportation costs. The companies marketed their products to Cincinnati, Louisville, and cities in the Northeast, where furnaces were fired by less-efficient anthracite coal and could not compete with lower-cost southern rivals. The companies kept labor costs low by employing black workers, who came from depressed agricultural areas and supplied cheap labor. And the coal used to fire the furnaces was largely mined by forced convict labor leased to the companies at very low rates by the state and county governments. James W. Sloss The Birmingham firms were all financially successful except for the Sloss Furnace Company. Colonel Sloss, hoping to lure outside investment to Birmingham's steel industry, sold his interest in the firm for $2 million to investors, mostly from Virginia, who reorganized the firm as the Sloss Iron and Steel Company in 1886-87. The addition of the word steel to the new company's name was significant. All of the existing companies in Birmingham produced "pig iron," which was formed in molds laid out in a pattern resembling piglets nursing at the belly of a sow, hence the name. Pig iron has a very high carbon content and as a result is very brittle and difficult to work with and therefore has limited use in manufacturing. Steel is an alloy, or mixture, of iron and a small but crucial amount of carbon that (depending on the quality of the iron used) produces a highly workable metal that was more suitable for shaping into rails for the expanding railroad industry. Birmingham's local iron ore was high in phosphorus, which produced inferior steel. Sloss hoped to employ a new steelmaking process capable of eliminating phosphorus, but its patents were owned by Pennsylvania industrialist Andrew Carnegie and his Carnegie Steel Company. Thus, Sloss could not use them to manufacture the coveted alloy. TCI's Steelworks in Ensley Birmingham industrialists continued to search for ways to produce quality steel, believing that the region's low production costs, cheap labor, and close access to raw materials would make Birmingham the world's greatest industrial city. TCI, by far Birmingham's largest corporation, was run by businessmen who were more interested in stock speculation than in efficient operations. In 1892, TCI officials tried to lure the Sloss and DeBardeleben companies into a merger. DeBardeleben, unaware that TCI was close to bankruptcy, agreed to the deal and lost most of his fortune. Sloss officials, who were committed to a patient, conservative growth strategy, wisely backed out, and the company stayed independent. Sloss Furnaces In 1895, TCI instituted a new process that reduced phosphorus and other impurities in the raw materials and began producing steel, but its quality still did not match that of the steel produced in northern factories. Four years later, the company was forced to adopt a much more complex and costly method of eliminating the phosphorus. Sloss-Sheffield, which had retained the word steel in its name when it officially incorporated, worked toward improving steel quality as well, but the company largely concentrated on making high-quality pig iron for the foundries that had begun moving to Alabama. Although phosphorus was a problem in steel-making, it enhanced iron's liquidity and made it more suitable for molding, or casting, into waste and pressure pipes, stove plates, and a variety of intricate shapes. Woodward pursued the same strategy, and Alabama soon dominated the domestic foundry trade. Many local business leaders resented the deviation from the goal of steelmaking, however. Republic Steel in Gadsden In 1907, New York investment banker J. P. Morgan, who had recently created the world's largest company, United States Steel Corporation, acquired control of TCI. Local supporters of the purchase initially believed that this development would guarantee Birmingham's future greatness, but their expectations were wrong. U.S. Steel officials did not want TCI to compete with Pittsburgh and other steelmaking centers and imposed a discriminatory pricing formula, known as "Pittsburgh Plus," that was essentially a fee placed on rail shipments from Alabama. This fee eliminated any price advantage that TCI might have had outside its immediate region. New management, including CEO George Gordon Crawford, also defied southern views of labor and social welfare by dramatically improving housing, education, and medical care for TCI's largely black work force. Birmingham Steel Worker Housing Sloss-Sheffield modernized somewhat and profited from the foundry trade in the years preceding World War I. During the conflict, however, the company responded too slowly to the federal government's demand that it support the war effort by building up-to-date coke ovens to capture previously wasted though valuable chemical by-products. TCI and Woodward had already installed such ovens, and government impatience led to a change in leadership. New coke ovens in North Birmingham were completed after the war. Allied Chemical and Dye Corporation, which helped design the ovens, took financial control of the firm and continued to modernize the blast furnaces. By the end of the 1920s, Sloss-Sheffield and Woodward were the largest producers of foundry pig iron in America, and Alabama had more foundries than any other state. Meanwhile, TCI continued to be Birmingham's largest enterprise, but the constraints placed on it by parent-company U.S. Steel kept output down. By the end of the decade, TCI had produced less than 3 percent of the steel made in the United States. Miners in Birmingham, 1937 The Great Depression that began in 1929 devastated Birmingham's economy. Production of steel and pig iron shrank to the lowest levels since 1896, and operations at TCI, Republic, Sloss-Sheffield, and Woodward were drastically curtailed. Business leaders fought bitterly against labor reforms enacted under the New Deal, particularly the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, which aimed to raise the wages of southern laborers to the level of their northern counterparts. Labor unions won recognition against strong resistance, but unemployment reached unprecedented levels. U.S. Pipe and Foundry Company Demand for foundry pig iron remained high into the 1950s. Because Sloss-Sheffield's earnings exceeded those of USP&F, the parent company absorbed its subsidiary in a 1952 merger to take advantage of its superior profitability. Soon after the merger, USP&F moved its headquarters to Birmingham. In 1956, it began building a massive, ultra-modern blast furnace in North Birmingham in response to increasing competition from overseas firms, but the move came too late. By the time the facility was ready for production in 1958, German and Japanese blast furnaces, ironically built with U.S. foreign aid, were exporting iron to the United States at prices lower than those of domestic producers. Sloss-Sheffield and Woodward lost markets to these competitors that they had previously dominated. Demand for TCI products also began to shrink because of foreign competition. In addition, the appearance of superior ductile iron further reduced the demand for USP&F foundry pig iron by the end of the decade. U.S. Steel Fairfield Works Problems for Alabama's iron and steel industry continued to mount. USP&F narrowly avoided a hostile takeover and was absorbed by the Jim Walter Corporation, a maker of prefabricated homes. The new owners soon realized that Alabama's coal reserves, which remained plentiful, commanded higher prices in foreign markets than coke-fired pig iron, which was becoming uneconomical to produce. In 1970, USP&F's last active furnace in Birmingham, one of the two that had been remodeled on the site of the original Sloss Furnace Company, shut down for good. In 1980, Jim Walter Corporation closed the huge new furnace that USP&F had erected in North Birmingham in 1956, then dismantled and sold it for scrap. Even Woodward, long the most profitable company in the Birmingham District, was forced out of business in the early 1970s, and only U.S. Steel's Fairfield plant remained in production. The Fairfield facility is capable of producing up to 2.4 million tons of raw steel each year, with which it manufactures sheet metal and seamless tubular products.

As Birmingham business leaders focused on new industries, such as professional services and a major medical school, small mills still made limited amounts of steel, but an era that had begun at Oxmoor Furnace in the 1870s had receded into the past. Sloss Furnaces National Historic Landmark, opened to the public in 1982, provides visitors with a glimpse of Birmingham's industrial past and interprets its history in a museum that preserves the artifacts of the city's once-great iron and steel industry.

Armes, Ethel. The Story of Iron and Coal in Alabama. Leeds, Ala.: Beechwood Books, 1987.


Steele DE-8 - History

For just over 100 years, Pennsylvania was truly "the steel capital of the world." Making steel was a great drama of wealth and poverty, of soaring skyscrapers and gritty mill towns, of the clash between the imperatives of profit and human dignity.

Pennsylvania's steel built the Brooklyn Bridge, the George Washington Bridge, the Chrysler Building and the Empire State building. Its forging mills hammered out the seventy-ton axle used in George Ferris' world-famous 2,000 passenger wheel at the 1893 Chicago World's Fair as well as the Panama Canal's 110-foot-high lock gates. In turn, Pennsylvania's steel mill towns created a distinct type of industrial society portrayed in such films as Deer Hunter (1978), Flashdance (1983), and Robocop (1987).

The coming of mass-produced steel in the 1870s created a modern industrial society in Pennsylvania. Farm hands from Chester County, sharecroppers from Alabama, and peasants from Slovenia became industrial workers, yoked to the time discipline of the mill whistle and the work discipline of the industry's hard driving practices.

You entered a steel mill as a laborer, in the steel mill itself if you were lucky. Common labor in the coke ovens , blast furnaces , or mill yard was just as difficult, paid less, and had little prospect for advancement. Everywhere you would meet workers of different nationalities and cultures. Ex-soldier Charles Walker learned the ropes from the casting-pit work gang - immigrants from Italy, Croatia, Germany, Russia, and Poland - then got onto the steel floor by talking with a Pennsylvania-Dutch melter. One morning Walker arrived five minutes late and got docked forty-three cents, about the price of a good pair of work gloves.

A select few of Pennsylvania's citizens, Andrew Carnegie first and foremost, made indescribable wealth from steel. When he sold his holdings to J.P. Morgan, Carnegie became "the world's richest man," and for nearly two decades made every effort to give away his wealth. Amazingly enough, he succeeded after funding 2,811 public libraries, 7,689 church organs, numerous large-scale philanthropic ventures, and countless pensions - spending a total of $380 million.

In The Romance of Steel (1907), historian Herbert Casson struggled to illustrate the vast capitalization of Morgan's U.S. Steel. It took him three pages to understand the sum of $1.4 billion. The sum might build ten Panama Canals, or pay the salary of 7,000 U.S. presidents for 28,000 years, or buy gold enough to fill a forty-four car train, or provide a small fortune of $9,000 for every person in the corporation's employ.

There is no need for three pages of fanciful statistics to represent the modest sums that workers earned. Men sought steel mill jobs because they paid comparatively well, even though the work was grueling, hot, and dangerous. At the turn of the century, unskilled laborers in Pittsburgh steel mills made around fifteen or sixteen cents an hour, considerably less than the $3 a day needed to support a family decently. Most other workers were on tonnage rates, not hourly ones.

In 1907, the average daily pay in Homestead's open-hearth department was $2.70. Skilled "first helpers" might average $5 a day. At the time, only one worker in a hundred earned more than $6 a day. With few exceptions, a twelve-hour day was the rule until the mid-1930s.

While Carnegie enjoyed Pennsylvania's cool mountain breezes in the summertime and New York's glitzy society in the winter, mill town residents suffered the social and environmental costs of poor housing, smoky air, and fouled water. "The women in the steel towns fly a flag of defiance against the dirt," wrote journalist Mary Heaton Vorse. "It is their white window curtains. You cannot go into any foul courtyard without finding white lace curtains stretched on frames to dry. Wherever you go, in Braddock or in Homestead or in filthy Rankin, you will find courageous women hopefully washing their white curtains. There is no woman so driven with work that she will not attempt this decency." In the mill, clouds of ore dust or rolling mill scale or other grit coated workers' lungs. "Many a workman," noted labor investigator John Fitch in 1907, "justifies his daily glass of whiskey on the ground that it ‘takes the dust out of my throat."

Great labor battles littered the Pennsylvania landscape for decades. Trade unions in the iron industry proved unable to organize steel workers. Sadly, skilled white American trade unionists showed little interest in raising the living standards or improving the working conditions of the unskilled and semiskilled steelworkers, even though they made up three-fourths of steel mill employment. These unskilled immigrants from southern and eastern Europe were typically dismissed as "Huns" or "Hunkies."

Steel companies - before, during, and after the epic Homestead strike of 1892 - actively fought workers' efforts to form unions. With a pliant state government on their side, steel companies ran the towns, organized the police, spied on workers, and jailed, fined, or blacklisted union organizers as they saw fit. Despite numerous strikes during the long non-union era, from the 1891 Morewood Massacre through the great steel strike of 1919, workers still faced long hours and low pay.

Steel unionism finally flourished with Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal reforms. The Wagner Act of 1935 notably placed the federal government firmly on the side of organized labor. Changes in the Pennsylvania state government mattered, too. Progressive governor Gifford Pinchot (1923-27, 1931-35) reined in and finally abolished the notorious Coal and Iron Police, which for decades had served at the command of the mine and mill owners.

When the United Mine Workers helped organize steel in 1936-37, the union's secretary-treasurer was none other than lieutenant governor Thomas Kennedy. Pinchot's wife Cornelia was a force in her own right. About a showdown in Aliquippa in 1937, one union later recalled, "I thought there was going to be [a] thousand people killed. There were thousands and thousands of people congregated in the center of town. And do you know the company [Jones and Laughlin] had manual machine guns in the windows in the hotel. If need be, they was prepared to ‘mow "em down." Hard to believe, Mrs. Pinchot came into town and led the parade of steelworkers. They marched up to the Polish hall . . . and she [gave] a speech there. She spoke for the organization of the steelworkers. That was the first real break."

For a generation after World War II, active steel unionism and ample steel profits gave many blue-collar workers a middle-class lifestyle. During the repressive Cold War years the United Steel Workers of America actively expelled its communist members, the strongest supporters of increased African-American participation in the union and employment in the mills.

Furthermore, the workplace seniority system entrenched racial segregation by channeling workers' promotions within certain job lines. Black workers advanced within the blast furnace department's job lines, for example, while white workers advanced in the better-paid maintenance department. Little noticed was that, for the first time, imports of steel became larger than exports during the 116-day-long 1959 strike.

This fully mature industry, with its abundant profits and high wages, simply collapsed in the 1980s. In just ten years, half the country's steelworkers lost their jobs . Losses were catastrophic in many Pennsylvania mill towns. Management bungling, union inflexibility, government ignorance, waves of global competition - each contributed a measure to this sad outcome.

Bethlehem Steel, once hailed as "the arsenal of America," is now a division of the International Steel Group. Steelworkers in America increasingly work not for hometown companies, but for corporations based in Europe and Asia. World Steel Companies. In this brave new world, mill workers struggle for new jobs, and mill towns strive for new futures.


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Comments:

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